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Give the gifts that keep on giving. Or sucking -- it goes both ways.

By Bill Frost

DECEMBER 8, 1997: 

Spice Girls Spiceworld (Virgin). To answer your first question: Yes, the Pepsi song is included. To answer your second question: Yes, the Spice Girls are still the greatest musical geniuses of this century. Oasis? Not even close. R.E.M.? Yeah, right. Celine Dion? Actually an original member back in the day (nickname: "Big-Ass Head Spice"), before she was fired for not keeping her lunch down. Spiceworld is "neat" music for aspiring Deseret News nightlife reporters and deeper than a double issue of Salt Lake City magazine — the lagging sales (of Spiceworld, not Salt Lake City mag) are just further proof of how the true masters are never appreciated in their own time. Rate it: AAAAA

Dead Milkmen Death Rides a Pale Cow (Restless). A greatest-hits package from the Dead Milkmen? Christmas came early this year! Death Rides a Pale Cow even includes the obligatory two unreleased tracks — imagine it: Songs that weren't good enough to be included on a proper Milkmen album. Lurking amongst the 23 "hits" are "The Thing That Only Eats Hippies," "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)," "Punk Rock Girl," "If You Love Someone Set Them On Fire" and the immortal alt-rock radio classic "Bitchin' Camaro." The kids just don't like humor in their music anymore — does anyone really believe that there will ever be another Bloodhound Gang album? — and the band can only be found these days at www.deadmilkmen.com, but rumors of a split are completely groundless: The Dead Milkmen were seen together recently in Australia, having a great time and partying with INXS' Michael Hutchence ... oops. Rate it: B

Letters to Cleo Go! (Revolution). Three years after the rapid-fire stutter-squeak of "Here and Now," the sorta-hit from the Melrose Place soundtrack, Letters to Cleo are back to say, uh, something. Landing right in the middle of the '80s-embracing late-'90s (we're quickly running out of retro — read all about it in The Onion), Kay Hanley and the Letters-men have made the righteous score of getting ex-Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes to guest on their new-wavering single "Anchor." He must have heard Letter to Cleo's cover of "The Dangerous Type" on The Craft soundtrack. Go! is no Candy-O, but it's no Panorama, either — only Cars nuts will appreciate that one. Coming soon: Gary Numan joins Veruca Salt. Rate it: B-

Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Trouble Is... (Revolution). The new Stevie Ray Vaughan, or just the lost Hanson brother? Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a blues guitar hot-shot with severe handicap: He doesn't sing. In Blues World, this is akin to being a trucker who can't drive a stick, but he plows on with the uber-generic Noah Hunt at the mic, making the instrumentals all the more valuable. Trouble Is... lacks the raw edge of Shepherd's debut and the incendiary attack of his live performances, such as his scorching appearance on Austin City Limits earlier this year. Lose the goon and step up to the mic, Kenny. Rate it: C

Greg Garing Alone (Revolution). Think of blues with break-beats and you think of Beck. Think of blues with break-beats, no sense of humor and an outlook darker than a leather jacket at the bottom of an open grave at midnight and you should think of Greg Garing. Here, producer David Kahne tries to turn on the lights and misses the point: You can't nice up things like this. Maybe he thought Alone could be the Jeff Buckley album that never got made, but he can't squelch the black soul of Greg Garing, no matter how hard he tries. Rate it: A-

Fu Manchu The Action is Go (Mammoth). Now that you don't have Kyuss to kick around anymore, Fu Manchu are the new kings of the low-slung, greasy groove. With riffs heavier than a class-3 meteorite and lyrics too obtuse for open-mic night at the skate-ramp, these guys rock to the point of retiring the phrase "these guys rock." Any one of the 14 cuts on The Action is Go, from "Evil Eye," through "Trackside Hoax," to "Nothing Done," would force even Christopher Reeve into an air-guitar frenzy. Bonus points for the cowbell on "Urethane" and the cover design lifted directly from Skateboarder magazine circa 1977. Just think: Disney now owns Mammoth, and, therefore, a piece of Fu Manchu — Ellen DeGeneres is the least of their worries. Rate it: A

Stereolab Dots and Loops (Elektra). Not quite as enjoyable as listening to a modem connection, but close. Maybe "Techno-Lounge" works on paper — in too-hip magazines that you couldn't read with a spy decoder ring — but, in the end, Stereolab's overrated gurgling is just like a Details fashion spread: It looks cool to be leafing through it, but you'd never actually wear that shit in public. My excommunication from the Secret Society of Rock Critics is imminent. Rate it: D

Pat DiNizio Songs and Sounds (Velvel). The good news: The Smithereens — Dinizio's band, in case you didn't know — have not broken up. The better news: After being dropped by Capitol and RCA, the Smithereens have signed with Velvel, a new label with enough apparent good taste to be worthy of them. Solo albums from the leaders of high-voltage rock outfits usually get all pensive and acoustic, but DiNizio's Songs and Sounds kicks it with all of the gusto of another great Smithereens album — just in different directions. The 'Reens rarely stray from their wall-of-guitars pop attack, so here, DiNizio re-decorates the garage with added instrumentation and slightly more intricate arrangements. The result? Damned if he doesn't sound like Pete Townsend or — gasp — Elvis Costello with bigger amps. If DiNizio keeps recording on his own, as well as with the Smithereens, there'll be no need to look for your power pop anywhere else. Rate it: A+

Soundtrack A Life Less Ordinary (London). Like most of the country, you probably blinked and missed this movie. The title only sounds familiar because of Beck's "Deadweight," and the minor shitstorm kicked up when overrated Scottish crybaby Ewan MacGregor threw print hissy-fits because he couldn't find booze under every rock in Utah while filming. Go home, jerkoff. A Life Less Ordinary was also another in a growing series of Next Big Thing flame-outs for Cameron Diaz: "She's it! She's now! The movie sucks!" For the most part, so does the soundtrack — exceptions being Beck's twisted bossonova hit, Luscious Jackson's "Love Is Here," the Cardigans' (remember them?) "It's War" and Squirrel Nut Zippers' relative-oldie "Put a Lid On It." The Prodigy's "Full Throttle" is mildly tolerable, but only because it's an instrumental — no screaming from Fruit Stripe-head. Rate it: D

Various Artists The Duran Duran Tribute Album (Mojo). Just a bad, bad idea. Ska bands covering Duran Duran? And how did Eve's Plum get involved? The novelty of it all wears out quicker than Andy Taylor's solo career. Bjorn Again, the ABBA tribute band, phones in a techno-cheese version of "Girls On Film" that you may even start grooving to, until you realize, "Hey, this is a tribute band covering some other band! And there's already a version of 'Girls On Film' on here!" Rate it: F

Lords of Acid Our Little Secret (Antler Subway). You'll have to get the CD and check out the second fold of the inner sleeve to find out what "Our Little Secret" is — most will be disgusted, some will be quite impressed. Lead dominatrix Nikkie Van Liedrop and her band of sex-obsessed Belgians drive it deeper, harder and faster than ever before with instant classics like "Rubber Doll," "Fingerlickin' Good," "Cybersex" and "Spank My Booty." Yes, it's just clean, wholesome and — dare I say it? — neat dance music for the kiddies. There are even traces of hip-hop in the Lords' latest leather bag of tricks: Thrill to Van Liedrop's heavily-accented rap as she tells the world that her "Pussy" is better than all others, inviting any challenger to "Lay your little pussy right next to mine." It's that kind of pride that's made Belgium the cat-breeding leader of the civilized world. Rate it: A

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